Four Hours In Line? Worth It For McQueen Show

Alexander McQueen Oyster Dress

Who waits four hours to see anything? (Except maybe Disneyworld.)

I did, last week in Manhattan, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, to see the show of Alexander McQueen, the late Scottish clothing designer who committed suicide in February 2010, leaving a bereft world of fashion editors, collectors and fans of his work.

I’d seen bits of it in fashion magazines. It was often shockingly weird, like shoe-boots so impossibly high that walking in them was dangerous. This was a level of brilliance un-knock-off-able, no watered-down mass-market versions likely to show up in next year’s competitors’ catalogues.

I knew it was beautiful and challenging. I had no idea how truly extraordinary his imagination until I spent 75 minutes with it. (The show has now closed, having become one of the most popular ever held at the Met; more than 600,000 people stood for many hours in line to see it.)

Where to begin?

Historic references. From chopines, the towering platform shoes worn by Venetian women from the 14th to 16th centuries, to allusions to Scottish history, in his collection, the widows of Culloden, which included a headpiece with a metal birds’ nest holding exquisitely jeweled eggs.

Materials. From burlap to paillettes to tulle to faille to chiffon to metal to feathers to silver to leather to….horsehair! One of my favorite dresses was made of burlap, over-embroidered with huge, almost childlike flowers in soft jewel tones, with an underskirt of tightly pleated gold. The contrast between humble and opulent, patrician and peasant, was much more powerful in opposition. Dresses made of clamshells and mussel shells? Yes, and gorgeous.

Borrowed ideas. A tailored women’s jacket…that wrapped like a straitjacket. He’s been described as misogynist for such designs, but I found it intriguing. So many demands of traditional women’s beauty force us into tortured postures as it is. Why not call it as you see it? A breathtakingly sinuous arm-cuff of sterling thorns recalled Christ’s crown. I loved the balsa-wood skirt (with leather tabs like a classic kilt) with cut-outs, that spread open like an 18th. century cut-ivory fan.

Daring. One of my favorite elements of the exhibit was the  chance to watch several videos of his shows. One had a model wearing a white dress, edged on two sides by white robotic spray-painters….whose streams of black and chartreuse spattered against the skirt (and the model) created the design in front of our eyes. A piece of body armor, ring upon ring of gleaming steel, that one might wear into battle, symbolic or otherwise. A jacket with mini crocodile heads on each shoulder. Women need protection. He got it.

Sorrow. One dress, for me, is unforgettable, a long pale column of white and gray, with a photo print of statues, two doves on each shoulder. How can a garment convey such melancholy? It did.

Nature, reconfigured. I adored a long, tight jacket of gold feathers, a burst of white, bead-embroidered tulle exploding at the hem. The last collection of snake and lizard and python-printed jersey, overlaid with bronze and turquoise and mustard paillettes.

I have to thank this blogger, a New York City costume designer, for finally getting me to go to this show. After he had seen it six times (!), I thought, right, worth it.

I will never forget some of these images and ideas.

Now I understand why his admirers feel bereft.

Have you ever seen a museum show that gobsmacked you this way?

Trying On A Career — For $40

The Wannado City "sign" logo.
Image via Wikipedia

Here’s one way to spend your vacation — checking out a career. A new amusement park in Sunrise, Florida, Wannado University, offers kids ages two to 14 the chance to live out their work fantasies:

Step 1. Start young. How about two years old? That’s exactly what the creators of Wannado City in Sunrise, Fla., (just 25 kilometres west from Fort Lauderdale) have in mind. This unplugged theme park-cum-job training centre for squirts is an antidote to Florida’s pricier, flashy, family-thrill-ride hot spots. At Wannado City, kids from two to 14 years old can try on grown-up professions for size (and the costumes that go with them) from detective to doctor, firefighter to fashion designer.

Wannado – the size of three football fields – is laid out to look like a town, albeit a town that is blessed with only attractive businesses. There are no dry cleaners, notary offices or accounting firms. Among the 60 storefronts, there is a circus, flight-training centre, high-end fashion house and movie studio. For $40 (U.S.), kids can come in search of any one of more than 250 different jobs (and they go door to door on their own, but parents can watch over them in the “Eagles Nest” lounge). Once they settle in at the hospital, fire station or airport, they slip into uniforms and get some on-the-job training before they embark on removing a kidney stone, fighting a fire or flying a 747. Yes, there is an actual flight simulator.

A company called VocationVacations has been doing this for adults for years now. It’s an interesting idea, this, of trying on a new job or industry before the drama of actually doing it. In a recession where millions can’t find work they know how to do, and wonder what on earth — if anything — they’ll do next or instead, it’s a question many of us are facing.

About 15 years ago, I planned to move into interior design and went to study it full-time, but only after interviewing three highly successful women who had been working in various segments of the industry for a while. I learned a lot, and some of which really surprised me — one designer told me that being nice (!) was key to her success as so many of her competitors were hand-flapping divas who terrified their clients. Who knew?

What other job or career would you like to try and why? Have you made major career changes along the way? How did they work out?

A Legendary Manhattan Street, Ruined

NEW YORK - MARCH 20:  Cars are parked near the...
This is what's left of the real Bleecker. Image by Getty Images via Daylife

Hey, if you love Marc Jacobs, you’ll love the new, shiny Bleecker Street, that odd dog-leg of a street that starts out running north-south in the West Village before turning east-west. He’s got five stores on this strip, leaving some street-lovers, like me, mourning the old Bleecker.

I’ve been loving that street since I moved here in 1988, but have watched its hideous yuppification over the past decade with dismay. Nusrati — that crazy corner emporium of jewels and tunics and rugs, out — Ralph Lauren store, in.

Gone is the great Japanese store, several antiques stores, bookstores. Now it’s all faux hipsters and cell-phone-photo-snapping tourists thrilled to be able to shop all the Big Name Designers they can find at home in their malls in Shanghai and Rome and Tulsa, but still cop a Magnolia Cupcake a block away.

Reports The Wall Street Journal:

Other retailers that recently signed new leases and are open or expect to be operating soon include: menswear shop Freemans Sporting Club, French retailer A.P.C. and a bookstore from fashion designer Marc Jacobs—his fifth shop on this stretch of Bleecker. Molly’s Cupcakes and Echelon Cycles have also closed on deals.

Even the William Gottlieb estate—the area’s largest private landlord and one with a reputation for letting leases expire and stores remain vacant for an extended time—is aggressively courting new tenants. It recently hired brokers Ripco Real Estate and CB Richard Ellis. Spokeswoman Lin-Hua Wu says the estate “has signed a number of new commercial and residential leases in the past several months.”

Not everyone, of course, welcomes the influx of retailers. The makeover of Bleecker’s once sleepy stretch of antique shops, pet stores and dry cleaners began when Marc Jacobs arrived in 2001. Even before the area’s newest retailers open their doors, they are already generating angst among long-time West Village residents.

“I hear more complaints about gentrification than about the boarded-up stores in the neighborhood,” says Kim Herzinger, owner of Left Bank Books, who decided to relocate his shop to Eight Avenue from West 4th Street off Bleecker after his lease expired in January.

When the lease for a Laundromat or deli expires and is handed off to a fashion accessory shop, residents complain their quality of life suffers. “Everybody misses the services,” says Marilyn Dorato, a local resident who presides over the Greenwich Village Block Association. “You can’t get a pair of shoes repaired around here anymore.”

If you’ve never heard it, play “Wednesday Morning 3 a.m.” by Simon and Garfunkel, on which they memorialized the street in this beautiful ballad:

Fog’s rollin’ in off the East River bank
Like a shroud it covers Bleecker Street
Fills the alleys where men sleep
Lies the shepherd from the sheep
Voices leaking from a sad cafe
Smiling faces try to understand
I saw a shadow touch a shadow’s hand
On Bleecker Street
A poet reads his crooked rhyme
Holy, holy is his sacrament
Thirty dollars pays your rent
On Bleecker Street
I head a church bell softly chime
In a melody sustainin’
It’s a long road to Caanan
On Bleecker Street
Bleecker Street.

A Death Foretold? Alexander McQueen's Final Collection Filled With Doves And Angels

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 11:  A private ambu...
His final exit.Image by Getty Images via Daylife

In the fashion world in recent years, there were few more iconoclastic or truly creative than British designer Alexander McQueen, who committed suicide a month ago today, on February 12, a week after the death of his mother. He died on the day he was to have attended her funeral.

His final collection was reviewed this week in The New York Times:

No collection dominated the Paris season quite like Alexander McQueen’s, and not because it represented the final work of the late designer. The 16 dresses and caped coats — each one different and all referencing 15th-century paintings or carvings — were exceptional because no one else thought to make such a personal and subtle connection to the function of art on human consciousness.

Mr. McQueen’s fashion often embraced historical styles, but rarely with more feeling and modern sense of purpose. He had details of medieval paintings, in particular Hieronymus Bosch’s “Garden of Earthly Delights,” captured digitally and then woven into jacquard or embroidered. He cut each of the patterns himself.

Given the subject matter of the paintings, the imagery is necessarily gothic, glorious but also dark. Lions are embroidered in gold around the hem of a beautiful black silk caped dress. On the front of a long white dress are the slightly shadowed, downcast heads of two saintly figures. Above each is a dove in flight. The silk dress, with the details rendered in different shadings of gray, extends the figures’ robes to the hem, duplicating their swirls and folds in jacquard chiffon.

and much more compassionately and movingly by Christina Binkley in The Wall Street Journal:

What made the collection difficult to watch was the unmistakable impression that the designer was immersed in thoughts of the afterlife. Patterns on a gold brocade pant suit, on closer inspection, turned out to be angels, their wings spanning the torso. A floaty silk gown was imprinted with medieval images, the fabric folded back to place one white dove on the back of each shoulder.

Perhaps the eeriest insight into the designer’s final weeks was a dress imprinted with a scene from Bosch’s triptych “The Garden of Earthly Delights,” which shows the artist’s hellish conception of the afterlife.

The final look was a fitted jacket of gold-painted feathers over a white tulle skirt embellished with gold. It created an image of a gold-winged dove flying away.

I have never owned anything by him, nor would I have been likely to. But his ebullient creativity was a great pleasure for anyone who loves fashion and design.

To die at 40, by your own hand, is a terrible thing.

On her Times blog, Horyn wrote:

I’ve done a number of interviews with Mr. McQueen over the years, since the period when he was living and working in Hoxton Square, when the brash boy of London fashion, the creator of the “bumster” trousers, and I found him about as complex and beguiling as any human. He was enormously creative and intelligent — and funny and rude and fearless. He said what he thought — a rarity in the fashion establishment — and very often he could wind you up, toy with you, pull a bit of wool over your wide, innocent eyes.

But he was the real: a genuinely talented man. Soulful, deeply English and, of course, dark. He did have a dark, romantic side that surfaced in his collections. Depressed at times? I didn’t know him well enough to say so, but I would imagine he had his moments of despair. This is a tough business.